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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 25, 2019

TODAY IN RUSSIA: Lawmaker welcomes a reset with Washington after Mueller report comes up empty-handed on Trump-Russia collusion. European Commission bracing for Russian election interference. Russian planes land in Caracas. HRW appeals on behalf of Yabloko party member charged over internet post. Activists gather for Lake Baikal. Verzilov gives interview after poisoning. Finance Ministry ramps up borrowing.

Senior Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev welcomed a reset in ties between Moscow and Washington in the wake of the release of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. “We are of course ready,” Kosachev said. Mueller concluded that he found no evidence of President Donald Trump colluding with Russia to influence the presidential election results in 2016. The European Commission is predicting that Russia will try to interfere in this May’s parliamentary elections, and has doubled its spending on counter-disinformation accordingly. Bloomberg notes however that the budget of Russia’s Internet Research Agency alone is double all of Europe’s counter-disinformation agencies combined, not including mass media outlets like RT. Two Russian planes landed in Caracas over the weekend, carrying troops and defence officials. Reports say they are there to discuss strategy and training as part of ongoing military cooperation with Venezuela and support of existing president Nicolás Maduro.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) wants Russia to drop the charges against opposition activist Aleksandr Korovainy. The Yabloko party member was charged after reposting an infographic made by MBK Media comparing house prices over the last ten years. Hundreds of activists gathered for a rally in Irkutsk calling for the protection of Lake Baikal. Former Pussy Riot activist Pyotr Verzilov told the Moscow Times he believes that his poisoning six months ago, whilst he was in the middle of investigating the deaths of three journalists in the CAR, was organised by the security services.

Russia’s Finance Ministry borrowed $7.2 billion so far this month, more than four times its monthly average from last year, in preparation for potential political turbulence. The New York Times questions how much power Vladimir Putin really holds after 18 years in an authoritarian system. “This is not a personally run empire but a huge and difficult-to-manage bureaucratic machine with its own internal rules and principles,” says political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann.  

PHOTO: Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia is pictured in this handout photo taken by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield February 26, 2013 (REUTERS).